Category Archives: Performance

Continuously improve operational excellence and resilience.

Of Culture and Stories…

Surprisingly, no one on my noon conference call yesterday said “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide” or made any reference to THE EVENT OF THE CENTURY that occurred Saturday afternoon when #4-ranked Auburn University upset the #1 University of Alabama in the Iron Bowl by scoring on a 100-yard return of a missed field goal attempt with no time remaining in regulation…

…or not, given that everyone else was in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, London, etc., and could probably care less about SEC football – shocking though that may seem to some!

Rest assured that in Alabama yesterday, water cooler, cubicle, and hallway conversations reliving each and every moment of the game consumed many, many hours…oh, the stories to be told! The heroes and villains, good coaching decisions and bad, the great plays and the oh-so-close…all discussed, dissected, and made part of our heritage and culture here in the South.

Which begs the question: If people in your company or organization aren’t talking about SEC football, what are they talking about? What cubicle conversations are taking place right now that define or reinforce your corporate culture? What stories are being told that help people understand where it’s important for them to spend their time?

Want to change the culture? Change the story.

A friend told me about a company struggling to reduce customer-identified product defects through a process improvement initiative. A senior executive mandated that a chart be added to the quarterly program review slide deck to review process improvement activities on each project…1 slide, out of dozens discussing technical and programmatic status and issues. In the first review cycle, the program managers never even reached that slide (placed at the end of the deck) before running out of time. In the next review cycle the executive stopped the first program manager almost immediately and asked him to go the last slide in the deck…the process improvement slide! After they spent a few minutes discussing improvement efforts on that project, the executive thanked the presenter, turned the meeting over to her deputy, and left. What a way to send a message! She changed the story about what was important to the company and where people should spend their time.

Time is valuable; probably our most precious commodity. My Franklin Planner always has the Benjamin Franklin quote on the front: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

How are you spending your time? What stories are you telling to promote the culture you want to nurture in your organization?

Oh, and lest I forget: War Eagle!

Driving Performance

A friend asked on the company facebook page how to interpret my “Leading Change. Driving Performance.” tag line…did that mean I was now in the business of changing oil in sports cars?

No, but without additional context it’s certainly a valid question. And speaking of driving performance, I observed a gentleman driving to my church yesterday morning. Maybe he was running a few minutes late; perhaps he had been delayed en route. In either case he was traveling rather quickly, very focused on getting to church on time.

Don’t get me wrong: focus is good. Focus enables us to bring the necessary attention to make progress and solve problems. Likewise I admire the gentleman’s desire to be punctual and meet his commitment to be at church on time. Sometimes, though, focus can blind us to other considerations.

As a resident of that neighborhood, a parent and pet owner, I ask myself if he’s considered how he would feel if he hit someone’s pet or child that ran into the street in front of him?

The focus on getting to his destination means it will take him longer to recognize and deal with the unexpected. The higher speed means it will take more distance to stop. Both of these things have consequences. Sometimes we focus so much on a goal that we ignore the risks, assuming, “That won’t happen to me!”

Over the years I’ve worked with several organizations for whom schedule was the overriding concern. Meeting the delivery date trumped all other considerations.

Some organizations dealt with that constructively: utilizing scrum, for example–a highly effective approach to work management that focuses on regular, frequent delivery of functioning product while maintaining excellent, near-real-time visibility into progress, risks and issues, enabling an empowered team to address them.

Some organizations acted like the driver speeding through my neighborhood: blinders on, pushing full speed towards the delivery date, repeating (in staff meetings, management reviews, etc.) all the ways in which those problems won’t happen to us, without explaining why (hope is not an effective risk mitigation strategy, but that’s for another post); expending significant energy explaining away increases in staff turnover or customer reported defects.

How does your organization perform? Do you deal effectively with a changing reality, or do you have your blinders on?

How do you think your leadership would answer that question?


NPR aired this story on the way home today, and I had to find out more about it…I’d heard of the scandal, but didn’t realize so many people would be indicted on criminal charges.

The last statement in the article quotes a couple of folks bemoaning “…the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies.”

While I don’t want to delve into the world of educational evaluation systems, it does bring up an excellent point: you get what you measure, whether you want it, or not.

Scott Adams had a Dilbert cartoon years ago, where the pointy-haired boss announced a bounty on defects: every problem found in the software would be turned into cash! Sounds great, right? Well, right up to the last frame, where Wally walks out of the meeting saying, “Woohoo! I’m gonna code me a minivan!”

Does your organization have any dysfunctional behavior driven by measures mandated by management?

Does your organization have any measures that are collected, but absolutely no one knows why, other than, “We’ve always reported that”?

People are smart and know how they’re graded…it’s incumbent upon leadership to understand how the questions they ask and the information they request will drive behaviors in the organization…good and bad.